House OKs draft federal constitution

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 4) — The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on third and final reading its proposed constitution that seeks to shift to a federal form of government.

In an overwhelming 224-22 vote with three abstentions, lawmakers in the lower chamber approved Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 15, penned by House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and filed along with 35 other legislators.

The resolution is controversial for a number of reasons, including the removal of term limits for members of Congress and the lack of an anti-political dynasty provision. It earlier removed the Vice President in the succession line for the transition to a federal government, but was later restored after some backlash. It also adds a college degree as a requirement for those holding national elective posts.

Just like other bills passed by the House on third reading, the resolution will now be transmitted to the Senate for its action.

Under the resolution, proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution will be passed through a three-fourths vote of the Senate and the House, voting separately.

Arroyo has conceded that Congress cannot pass charter change under her watch, but stressed that the representatives "will bring it as far as we can bring it," hoping that the next Congress will be able to pass it. The 17th Congress ends session in 2019.

Senators, meanwhile, said there is no more time to tackle charter change in the upper chamber because of deliberations on the 2019 budget.

Federalism was a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte, with whom Arroyo is allied. After he called for the swift passage of charter change in his State of the Nation Address, the House of Representatives filed a resolution that supported the Senate's position that the two houses should vote separately. House lawmakers allied with Duterte earlier wanted the two chambers to vote jointly.

But even with such compromise, some senators said charter change is "good as dead," as they suspect Arroyo would use it to stay in power, a claim the former President denied.

The 'no' vote

Lawmakers who opposed the proposed constitution slammed its "rushed" passage, roughly three months after the resolution was filed in September.

The first to explain his "no" vote was Rep. Lito Atienza, who said revising the charter should be done through a "genuinely called constitutional convention."

What is being pushed by the House now is a constituent assembly, wherein members of the House of Representatives and the Senate shall convene and decide on constitutional amendments themselves. A constitutional convention, meanwhile, requires nationwide elections to select delegates who will draft the constitutional amendments.

"Kinakailangan nating bigyan ng tinig ang mamamayan sa usaping ito [We need to give voice to the citizenry in this issue]," Atienza said.

Rep. Kaka Bag-ao called for a "national conversation," and dismissed the House deliberations as a "short debate" by legislators.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, stressed that a shift to federalism would only deteriorate the country's economy.

"No less than President Duterte's economic advisers has exposed it (federalism) as not economically viable," Lagman said. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia previously said the Philippines was not economically ready for the federal shift, with the National Economic Development Authority pegging the cost to over P243.5 billion, while the Finance Department estimates P320 billion.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.